Disclaimer - All characters are property of Renaissance Pictures.  I do not own the characters in anyway.  This story is meant for entertainment purposes only. Many thanks to the wonderful people at the Talking Xena Shipper Heaven board for the basic idea.

Rated: PG-13 for implied sexual content.  

Even Until Death…

Ares heard the sounds of battle coming from someplace down the road.  His blood grew hot and his hand tightened around the handle of his sword.  Drawing, he raced to join the battle.  As he neared, he could see a large group of thugs fighting a tall dark-haired woman and a shorter blonde-haired woman.  Several thugs lay sprawled on the ground already.  On the roadside, Ares could see a huddled group of frightened villagers.

"Xena," Ares whispered under his breath.

He was surprised to see her there.  He hadn't seen her since she had helped him get set up at the farmhouse that had once belonged to her grandparents.  He wondered what would bring her this way.  Somehow, he knew she wasn't coming to see him.  She was probably helping those people get through the area safely.  It was well known that this road was full of bandits.  He loved her, but felt certain that she did not return his love. 

Dismissing the thought, Ares ran headlong into the battle, his sword poised to strike.  Immediately, his sword clanged with another.  Ares dispatched of his assailant quickly, and turned just in time to parry another blow.  He barely had a margin for error.  The thug was good, and Ares felt himself having trouble defending himself.  The other thugs noticed, and before Ares knew what was happening, his sword was knocked from his hand as five thugs descended upon him.  Blows rained down mercilessly on him.

Xena's sword cut through the throngs of bandits.  She'd barely even seen Ares enter the fight, but now she was acutely aware that he was in danger.  She heaved her chakram at his assailants, bringing swift death to them all.  Then, she turned to face the men who were left.  She stared hard at them, and they retreated.  Xena watched them go and then turned her attention to Ares.  She helped him off the ground and Gabrielle handed him his sword.  Ares was bruised and cut, but he'd be okay.

"Hi Xena.  Fancy meeting you here," he grinned.  "Let me guess.  You're taking these people to the next town because this is such a dangerous road.  Well, you've cleaned up the danger part."

Xena nodded.  "And you?  What are you doing here?"

"Oh, just out hunting.  I was on my way back home when I heard the battle.  Call it instinct, but I had to join in.  As you can see, I didn't kill anything."

Gabrielle chuckled a bit and was about to say something, when one of the presumed dead thugs got up.  He raised his sword and started towards the group of villagers.  Without thinking, Ares threw himself in front of the intended target, a little girl about nine years of age.  The thug's sword struck deep into Ares' chest.  Ares slumped to the ground, blood flowing freely from his chest.  Xena was instantly at the man's back, her sword plunging into the villain, killing him.  Then she was at Ares' side.

"Gabrielle?"

"Yeah."

"Take these villagers to Naxos safely will you?  I'll take care of him."

"Are you sure Xena?"

"Absolutely.  I'll meet you back at the house in a few days when you return.  I'm counting on you Gabrielle."

"Okay.  Good luck Xena."

"You too."

Gabrielle motioned for the group to follow her.  After a moment they did, the mother and child he had saved stopping to thank Ares.  Xena, however, was busy tending to Ares, who moaned in pain.  When the group was finally out of earshot, she spoke to him.

"Ares, what in Tartarus were you thinking?"

"I momentarily forgot I was mortal.  This mortality thing stinks," his voice broke from the pain.

Xena studied the sword before she spoke again and a shadow crossed her face.  "Poison."

The color drained from Ares' face.  "Poison?" he repeated.  "How bad?"

Xena didn't answer.

"Must be bad." He said.

"There's no known cure for it."

Ares took this in for a minute.  "So what do we do now?  There must be something – OW!"  He yelped as Xena cleaned and cauterized the wound.

"The only way you might stand a chance is very dangerous.  You have to die.  The poison becomes neutral when in contact with dead tissue."

Some time later, Xena finally got Ares back to the farmhouse.  She helped him into bed and then offered him some chicken broth.  He gratefully accepted the food.  He was weak from the fight and the poison.

"Ares," Xena began gentility, "I can speed the process up if you want me to.  You don't have to, but we should do it soon."

Ares shook his head, "Not yet.  I'm not ready."

"I understand.  Just rest now," she said as she fluffed a pillow.

Ares laid back and closed his eyes.  After a few short moments, sheer exhaustion overcame him and he slept.  Xena watched him for a bit and then went into the next room.  It was the main living room.  She built up the fire and sat down in her grandmother's old rocking chair.  She stared into the flames, her mind drifting back to the battle.  She could barely believe that Ares had put his life in danger to save that little girl.  But there he was in the next room, slowly dying for his efforts.

At least he was sleeping now.  Xena finally had time to try and put her feelings in order.  She couldn't help the overwhelming sense of heartache that she might lose him.  She wasn't sure what she would do without him.  'No,' she thought, 'I won't let that happen.'  Instead, Xena tried to force herself to think of how she could help him pull through.  Her mind, however, had a different plan, and soon she found herself being taken on a trip down memory lane, reliving their long, strange relationship.

Ares had been a big part of Xena's life, ever since she was a little girl.  Her father had been devoted to the God of War, even to the point of being ready to sacrifice Xena to him.  Her mother had been forced to kill Atrius before he could harm Xena.  As Xena had grown older, Ares became an even bigger part of her life.  She'd turned to war as a way of life and had been tricked by Ares into attempting to kill Hercules.  But Hercules had changed her stone cold heart and opened it to love.  Xena had then cast away her evil nature in turning to the Greater Good.  But Ares had still pursued her, even admitted his love for her.  At first she'd brushed if off, believing he was trying to save his own life with the Twilight of the Gods fast approaching.  But even now he still claimed his love for her.  She was beginning to believe him, even admitting to herself that she loved him back.  She'd begun to fall deeply in love with him during her pregnancy with Eve.  She told herself it was just hormones, but even then she had known it was more than that.  Now, with him as a mortal, she was more in love with him than ever.  She couldn't lose him!

Outside, a storm had begun to rage.  Thunder crashed and lightening illuminated the sky.  The thunder jarred Xena from her thoughts.  'At least the new roof is holding,' she thought.  She threw another log on the fire and stirred up the embers.  She hadn't realized how long she'd been lost in thought.

"Xena!" Ares called from the bedroom.

"Coming," she replied, heading towards him.

She found him attempting to sit up.  But he was having trouble.  Xena eased him back down and covered him up again, then helped him take a drink of water.  Horace, Ares' dog, had jumped up onto the bed and was snuggled in a tight ball by his master's side.

"You should be resting."

"Xena, I can't.  I need to talk to you first."

"Ares," she answered, putting a hand to his forehead.  The poison was spreading through his body faster than she had anticipated.  Fever ravaged his body.  " We need to do it now if we stand a chance to save your life."

"I know.  That's why I called you in here.  Listen, before we go ahead, I need to…clear the air between us.  I need to make peace with you before…in case I die tonight."

"Ares," Xena began, worried at the intensity of his voice.

"Sshh," he said, putting a finger to her lips.  "Please, Xena, I need to say this.  I've been doing some thinking…about us.  I'm so sorry that I acted like such a louse all those years.  Everything I ever did was to try to…allow for us to be together.  I never meant to hurt you.  I only wanted to love you.  That whole Warrior Queen thing I insisted on…it was only to convince you that we should be together.  Xena, no mortal has ever touched my heart…except for you.  I don't blame you if you don't return my love.  I just wanted to…apologize for what I did…and to let you know that my love for you is real."

"It's the fever talking, you're not thinking clearly," Xena tried to joke, to relieve the tension.  She wasn't quite sure what to say.  She was still torn between loving him and not.

"No, for the first time I am thinking clearly, I have to…in case I die tonight.

"I won't let that happen to you Ares.  I won't let you die," she said softly.  "I love you."

For a long time, time stood still.  Ares couldn't believe what he had just heard.  Xena could scarcely believe she said the words herself – words she had wanted to say aloud for a long time.  A brilliant smile lit Ares' face.

"Really?"

"Really."

She bent over him and kissed him lightly on the lips.  He responded, letting go of himself.  They melted into a passionate kiss – a kiss they both knew was long overdue.  When they finally broke away for air, Ares stared at Xena, looking her straight in the eye.

"Don't let me go."

"Never."

Ares studied Xena's face for a moment, memorizing it, impressing the image in his mind forever.  She was his source, his reason for continuing to live in this wretched mortal state.  He didn't want to lose that source.  Xena moved closer and put the pinch on him.  Immediately, she could see him panic as the flow of blood to his brain was cut.  His face contorted in pain and he trashed about wildly.  Horace growled menacingly at Xena.  Suddenly, Ares' stopped moving.  He wasn't gone yet she knew.  But Horace howled mournfully.  Five, four, three…she wished the dog would shut up…two, one.  She released the pinch and waited.  Nothing happened.

She began to check for vital signs, for any indication that he was still alive.  An unchecked tear slid down her cheek.  Still nothing.  She began to follow the same technique she'd used to bring Gabrielle back to life all those years ago in that temple during the war.  She blew air into his lungs and tried to get his heart to start.

"Ares, come back to me.  Do you hear me?"  Don't you leave me.  I love you."

Ares spun deeper into the blackness that surrounded him.  All pain was gone and he had the sensation that he was floating.  Something wasn't right.  And then it hit him.  He was dead.  He panicked, not knowing what to do.  That's when he heard the voice of an angel calling out to him.  She was calling him by name, asking him to come to her.  She was…expressing her love for him?!?!  Instantly he was calmed by the voice and he fought against the darkness to reclaim his life – and the woman he loved.

For a moment, nothing happened.  Xena was getting tired and her heart sank.  As fresh tears worked their way to her eyes, Ares gasped for air.  He opened his eyes.

"Hi Xena," he mumbled,  "Am I dead?"

A small, relieved laugh escaped Xena.  "No, I'm afraid you're stuck in the land of the living.  You're going to be just fine."

She held him tight.  Horace licked his cheek, tail wagging happily.

The sun was shining brightly and a warm breeze blew.  Not a single cloud littered the sky.  Gabrielle could hardly wait to reach the farmhouse.  It had been a few days since she'd left Xena.  Ares had been in bad shape.  Gabrielle was anxious to see how he was faring.  She rounded a corner on the road.  The farmhouse was finally in sight.  She breathed a sigh of relief.  It would be nice to relax – or at least, she hoped she would be able to.  Sure she was thankful that there had been no other attacks on the way to Naxos, but she was tired.

She reached the door and knocked.  To her surprise, Ares answered the door.  He was shirtless, but bandages covered most of the left side of his chest.  He wasn't wearing his trademark leather pants either.  Instead, he had on the dark cotton, drawstring style pants that he always complained about.  But yet, he seemed to be quite comfortable.  His belt hung from a corner of a chair.  Xena sat in front of the fireplace.  She was on the floor rubbing Horace's belly.  Her weapons had been tossed aside against a wall.  Her armor lay in a heap beside the weapons.  She wasn't wearing her leather outfit either.  All she had on was the white cotton slip she owned.  Both of their hair was mussed.  Gabrielle's heart caught in her throat as she realized what poor timing she had.

Xena caught sight of Gabrielle and got up.  "Hi Gabrielle.  How'd things go?" 

"Fine," she said, clearing her throat.  "Obviously things went well here too."  She noticed how close Xena stood to Ares.  In fact, his arm was around her waist.

"More then well," Ares grinned, then tried to cover.  "I'm alive after all."

Gabrielle nodded, unconvinced.  "So I see.  Everything was really okay?"

"Oh, nothing we couldn't handle," Xena said with a twinkle in her eyes – a twinkle that was reflected in Ares' eyes.

Disclaimer – Xena and Ares felt more alive than ever during the production of this fan fiction.